In February 2017, ARDRI, in partnership with the Land Project, established a farmer field school / home gardening study group in kuManzimdaka village, about 40 km from Elliot in the Eastern Cape. The purpose of the study group was to facilitate agricultural knowledge sharing, to promote best practices for sustainable and ecological production, and to benefit household income and food security. Farmer field schools are about people; they help rural people learn and develop skills needed for informed decision-making in complex environments. Importantly, farmer field schools support accurate problem analysis in local contexts, building from local knowledge and understandings of agroecosystems to support existing capacities. (Find a full description of this project HERE and background on ARDRI’s study group initiative on their community engagement page.)
For this project – loosely based on FAO’s Farmer Field School approach – our primary facilitator, Asanda Apleni, visited the village every six weeks for several days. During each visit, Asanda would meet with study groups and facilitate discussion and learning through meetings and hands-on workshops over the course of the growing season. Community members seemed very amendable to program because it did not require people to farm together. While mutual assistance is very much part of the social fabric in communities across the Eastern Cape, group projects tend to be problematic, and people seem to join them mainly because they feel this is the best chance of attracting or qualifying for assistance from government or others.
Due to large geographic distances between study group member households, the study group in kuManzimdaka (initially called Masincedisane, meaning ‘helping each other’) evolved into two groups (the second called Masikhulisane, meaning ‘empower each other). A total of 48 community members joined the two study groups.
Study group participants saw significant increases in their agricultural production. They also seemed encouraged to venture into crops that they do not normally bother with, and to some extent this happened at the expense of maize and of pumpkin production, which are often inter-planted. It is worth noting that although study group members produced more crops, they did not see meaningful increases in sales. This raises several questions about the project that should be explored in the future.
On December 7th, 2017, Asanda and the kuManzimaka study groups celebrated graduation from the field schools. (Graduation is a common aspects of Farmer Field Schools, which typically occur after a school has met regularly for a significant period of time, e.g. 1 year). At graduation, members of the groups shared their experiences with non-members from the community so that the latter may have an understanding of how the study group works. Meanwhile, graduation day in this context was a celebration to mark the study group’s successful conclusion of a season.
The LAND Project and ARDRI intent to continue the Farmer Field School work in kuManzimdaka moving forward.